American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition


Coloring in Soda Causes Cancer

Both Coca Cola and Pepsi are changing their formulas to avoid putting a “CANCER WARNING” label on their cans. It turns out the caramel coloring both sodas use contains ammonia sulfite, which produces a chemical called 4-methylimadazole (4-MEI) when processed – which has been shown to cause cancer in animals. In California, 29 micrograms per day of 4-MEI is the limit; a 12 ounce can of cola contains 138 micrograms – 480% over the limit. Of course, both soda companies claim their beverages are completely safe.

According to the FDA, you would have to ingest 1,000 12-ounce sodas to get enough 4-MEI to be dangerous. It sounds like a lot until you start thinking about that being three cans of soda per day for a year. Then think about the 16-oz and up size sodas found in most fast food restaurants. The average person could easily ingest this amount of 4-MEI in a year or two. I probably had that much and more before I quit diet sodas a few years ago.

We don’t know when the new formulations for Coke and Pepsi will be available, and I don’t think their labels will say “doesn’t cause cancer anymore!” So to be safe, avoiding soda is the smart thing to do. I don’t think the increase in cancer cases we have seen over the past few decades can all be attributed to caramel coloring in sodas, but when I look at the data for sugar, junk food, and other artificial colors and preservatives, I can’t rule out our society’s love for soda as a contributing factor.

There is no reason to panic, but next time you are thinking about a soda, try water or iced tea (unsweetened) instead. Sodas are addictive, and they do taste good – all that bubbly cold sweetness. Once you get off of them, though, they lose their appeal. You can drink something that benefits your health, like tea, or something that harms it – the choice is yours.

Wow, I’m starting to sound a little preachy, which isn’t my style. This kind of thing just makes me mad – Coke and Pepsi knew what was in their drinks and were hoping to get away with it. That puts them on tobacco’s team – and you can’t get much slimier than that.

For your kids, have them choose water most of the time. Lemonade and clear sodas as a treat. If they never develop the soda habit, you will be doing them a huge favor. And your wallet, too. It’s amazing how much lower the restaurant bill is when you substitute water for soda.

On a happier note, the antioxidants in wine, red especially, were shown to have protective benefits for our skin. A glass won’t replace sunscreen, but some nice sangria sure makes summer a little more fun.

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